National Post

Friday, February 19, 1999

Professors want prospective parents to meet strict criteria
Require licence, education

Joanne Laucius
Ottawa Citizen

No one should be allowed to raise children until they have finished high school, completed a parenting course, and obtained a licence, according to two Nova Scotia academics.

The costs to society of poorly raised children are too high to be left to those without resources or demonstrated commitment, say psychology professor Katherine Covell and political science professor Brian Howe.

"Children have rights and parents have responsibilities," said Ms. Covell. "A lot of people are having children who have no interest in raising them."

The professors, who suggested licences for parents in the September issue of Policy Options, have been called fascists and eugenicists for their views.

The two academics are directors of the Children's Rights Centre at the University College of Cape Breton. They are also a couple.

Ms. Covell, who has two grown children from a previous marriage, said the many examples of children battered or starved to death, often after child-welfare officials knew of the abuse, points to the need for action. The murder rate for infants in Canada is more than double that of adults, she said.

"It takes an average of four years between when a child is brought to the attention of the Children's Aid Society and when something is done about it. You could do a lot of damage in four years.

"Legislation gives parents every conceivable first, second, and third and fourth chances. Meanwhile, children are being abused. Or they're becoming young offenders, and we're saying, 'Let's build more jails.' "

Teenage pregnancies remain a problem and little is being done to discourage teens from having babies, Ms. Covell said. If a teen has one baby, she is likely to have a second.

"If you can get [a teenager] to finish high school, she won't choose parenthood as a route to adulthood," she said.

The solution she and Mr. Howe proposed in September, which is excerpted in the current issue of Next City magazine, argues that when adolescents become pregnant, another person who is licensed to be a parent "must agree to accept responsibility for the child rearing until the adolescent has completed high school and is able to apply for a full licence."

Prospective parents -- whether pregnant or adopting -- would have to complete a certified parenting course on early-infant development and sign a contract agreeing not to abuse or neglect their child. They would have to upgrade their licences with follow-up courses throughout the stages of the child's life: toddlerhood, preschool, schoolage, early adolescence, later adolescence.

Far from seeing this as a state intrusion into family life, the two academics argue that a licensing system would reduce interference: " . . . family life and parental freedom already are regulated. But the current regulations are reactive. parent licensing would be a more pro-active approach, lessening the need for intervention . . ."

It is not a new concept. Four years ago when University of Wisconsin Medical School psychiatry professor Dr. Jack Westman published a book called Licensing Parents: Can We Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect?

"If we want to do something about the violence and habitual crime and the welfare dependence in our country, we need to do something to prevent child abuse and neglect. And the best way that we know to do this today is to set expectations for parents by having a licensing process," Dr. Westman wrote.

The American Civil Liberties Union was horrified by Dr. Westman's proposal, saying it "smacks of Nazi Germany and Communist China."

Mr. Howe, however, is undeterred: "Licensing is licensing. It's not Big Brother."

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